- Cancer survival depends on victim’s mindset
Okwe Obi, Abuja
Chioma Ikejiani, a Nigerian-Canadian citizen, is a real estate developer, motivational speaker, publisher and a TV host.
Ikejiani, whose elder sister, Prof Miriam Odinchezo Ikejiani-Clark was Minister of State, FCT, is also a breast cancer survivor.
In this interview, she went down memory lane on how she was able to weather her cancer storm, as well as how the youths can be more useful to themselves. Excerpts:
Haven practiced journalism in Canada for over a decade, how would you rate the profession in Nigeria?
It is difficult for me to answer that question. But I think Nigeria’s style of journalism is tough and bumpy. I think, we journalists in Nigeria need to work harder to garner more respect for our profession in Nigeria. I also think we still need money and effective training to make it more sustainable. I do the kind of Oprah Winfrey journalism where I bring out the positive side of people and not the investigative style.
When were you diagnosed of cancer?
I was diagnosed in June 2016, when I was having a great time working. My doctor called and I told him that I did my last mammograms two years ago and she encouraged me to go to a hospital. And I kept on thinking which hospital to go to in Nigeria. I had to find out who the medical doctors are, the right hospitals since my doctor is in Canada. I had to visit a friend at a Turkish hospital and when I saw the equipment and the professionalism of the doctors I decided to do my check up there. It was very normal medical checkup. I walked in and never thought about anything. And I don’t really have cancer in my family.
Though my step-sister had it, but I never thought that I could have it. So, I went and did the mammogram and discovered that I had being diagnosed with HER2 Positive breast cancer. We immediately had to take the lump out. I did all that in Nigeria because I did not prepare to travel out of the country. So, Nigeria saved me from cancer because for me, traveling out of the country meant that I was contributing to medical tourism. And I promised not to do that even though I am a Canadian citizen, which would have cost me nothing. That tells you how much I love Nigeria.
How did Nigeria save you from cancer?
I was diagnosed in Nigeria and I stayed back. The Nigerian hospital operated and took out the lump and because there was no working radiology equipment I was asked to travel to Canada, my adopted country, to get further treatment. It was while in Canada that I was put on chemotherapy and I was on Stage 4, which is very serious diagnosis. It was while I was in Canada that thinking of coming back to Nigeria to work saved my life. The energy of working in Nigeria, coming back home and contributing was the drive that kept me alive. I read the Bible, prayed to God to give me the will to survive and made a covenant with God. Nigeria’s spirituality guided my recovery. I finished chemotherapy and came back to Nigeria and continued to take a maintenance drug from Roche Pharmaceutical available from National Hospital. So, I aam able to live a normal life and make my contribution to Nigeria. I truly am grateful to God for blessing me to return to Nigeria.
How were you able to cope with the finances?
When I came to Nigeria I worked. And instead of taking the money out, I left the money in and invested it in the Federal Government bond that was paying beautiful percentages back then in 2014. So, that investment yielded a lot of money that I could afford to go to a private hospital and look after myself. At the time of my diagnosis, I developed a relationship with the Turkish Hospital and I did not approach any government hospital because my focus was to fight the cancer, get well and see how to deal with being diagnosed with cancer. In fact, I didn’t even think about it.
Now that it has been successfully done, how do you feel?
I feel amazing. I have completely changed everything; like my diet. I have to exercise. Unfortunately, after I survived the operation, Nigerian hospitals did not, at that time, have the radiology equipment that I needed. So, I had to travel to Canada. And when I went there, it was scary and the cancer was at Stage 4, which is the last stage. And the doctors told me that they were not sure if it was going to work.
I had to start all over again by going through chemotherapy, but I never got sick at all. While taking chemotherapy, I was walking and jogging which was shocking for my oncologist. Even at that, I thought of what I was going to do after that. Because I needed to pay for my bills, I think what happens to a lot of people when they go through the trauma of cancer is that they get so scared and think life is over. They don’t know how to get over the notion that ‘I am going to die.’ But death was not an option for me.
When my oncologist said that I was fit to go back to Nigeria, I was excited because I needed to work. He advised me to take care of my affairs because that is what people do when they get diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. So, I had to think whether to stay back in Canada and get all the treatment I can get without paying for anything because I am a Canadian citizen or return to Nigeria. When I came back to Nigeria, life was difficult. I had to persuade my medical team to allow me get the drugs here which I was willing to pay.
What role did your family members play in all of these?
I took this health crisis as a project. I didn’t want to burden my family with it. So, it was something that I completely did on my own. I have always been dealing with crisis on my own. So, I sent everybody away. I needed to focus and get through the challenge. And part of that was also keeping my mind busy and this is where Nigeria came in. In fact, Nigeria saved me.
To survive cancer is a mindset. The vision of coming back here and working was also one of the things that kept me alive. For me, being there and thinking about what it is I was going to do and how I was going to do them kept my spirit alive because we have so much things to do here.
And if you have cancer and you don’t keep your mind busy you will have issues. I am not the type that solicits help and pity from people. So, Nigeria in that sense gave me another lease of life. Now, I can really fulfill my dreams. To be honest, I nearly died.
Since you are an entrepreneur, what would be your advice to young Nigerians who want to venture into business?
First of all, entrepreneurship is about identifying and solving a problem, which translates to wealth generation. I think Nigerians are the most incredible people in the world. In fact, we are the most populous black nation on earth. That is powerful! Unfortunately, to be a true entrepreneur in Nigeria is sweet, but tough! The youths in Nigeria are working in tough conditions because of the lack of infrastructural developments like light, access to financial assistance to develop their businesses. There are some youths that are driven by immediate gratification. I watched my father worked from 4:00a.m to 8:00p.m. So, I have always known from my young age that if I wanted anything I was going to work hard. They must have vision and be resolute. There is also a group of people who do not believe in Nigeria. Yes, we have our faults in terms of infrastructure deficit, but you know what, this is the time to take those opportunities.
What are these opportunities?
Nigerian youths are very innovative, there is this big move by the government to bring the youths into farming. They can tap into agriculture; fishery. They can go into painting business. There are so many homes and businesses that need to be fixed, painting can be a business that can grow. Land scapping is another business that can be developed with hard work. They can also venture in sports; football, table tennis, long tennis and so on. Look at Nollywood, despite the epileptic electricity, look at where it is today.
Tell us about your motivational speaking project. How is it going?
Before I came here I did a gender diversity conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Toronto, Canada. I wanted to showcase successful women who can share with us their stories of challenges and how they were able to surmount them. But my focus right now is on my television series to see how it will pan out. I am working with the presidency on this project. It is not easy. I am happy to inform you that we have started airing the series on the network service of NTA. I am so excited that we are progressing, and it has become a reality.
My show is called AMOI Unplugged. It is an interview style show, which will document strides attained so far in economic diversification in non-oil sectors (with special emphasis on the contributions of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs. Some of their revelations are shocking.
It depends on who you ask. But when it comes to insurgency and using taxation as a compulsory tool for increasing generation of revenue, President Buhari has done well. But like every other president before him, there are areas he has shortcomings.
Do you think the All Progressive Congress (APC) will get the people’s mandate come 2019?
This is the first time in Nigeria that nobody knows what is going to happen. The era where people decide who is going to be in power is no more in the equation anymore because the voters are more enlightened, and they want their votes to count. This is going to be the first time we are going to have a larger number of Nigerians who are willing to vote. Let me take this opportunity to ask every Nigerian who has not registered for their voter card to go and get their voters’ card.